In a move that could change the way aircraft fly, Rolls-Royce, in January 2019, announced the development of the world’s fastest zero-emission all-electric aircraft by 2020. This green aircraft will be developed under the initiative “Accelerating the Electrification of Flight (ACCEL),” which involves players, such as Rolls-Royce, the Aerospace Technology Institute, YASA, an electric motor manufacturer, and Electroflight, an aviation start-up, and is partially supported by the UK government. Rolls-Royce, in its ambitious project, is aiming to reach 300+ mph and is expected to break the record of 210 mph among all-electric airplanes set by the Siemens airplane in 2017.
Aircraft of the Future:
All-electric aircraft are powered through entirely electric systems. Several technologically advanced systems, such as propulsion, power electronics, fault-tolerant architecture, electro-hydrostatic actuators, flight control systems, high-density electric motors, energy-dense batteries, and power generation and conversion systems, make up the all-electric aircraft. Aircraft OEMs are expected to collaborate with suppliers to design new systems that hybridize traditional propulsion systems and implement new electrical-intensive architectures, with the ultimate goal to develop all-electric aircraft. However, concerns related to safety and operational speed due to lack of high-density batteries and electric motors are some of the major challenges impacting growth in the electrification of future all-electric aircraft.
Rolls-Royce is trying to overcome this challenge by collaborating with various industry players for technological developments, especially in the lithium-ion battery technology to increase the efficiency and safety of all-electric aircraft. For instance, in the model being developed by Rolls-Royce, the YASA designed battery will power 3 high-power density electric motors, which is expected to generate combined power of over 500hp and will enable the powertrain to run at 750 volts while delivering 90 percent energy efficiency. Also, to address issues related to safety and performance, sensors installed on the powertrain will collect and record 20000 points/sec of in-flight information, measuring battery voltage, temperature, and general performance metrics in all-electric aircraft.
According to Vaibhav Dixit, Associate Vice President, Aerospace & Defense, at MarketsandMarkets™, The all-electric aircraft market is estimated to be USD 99.3 million in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 121.8 million by 2023, at a CAGR of 4.17% from 2018 to 2023.
Recent technological advances in the field of power electronics, such as fault-tolerant architecture, electrohydraulic actuators, flight control systems, high-density electric motors, power generation, and conversion systems are expected to drive the market for all-electric aircraft. Adoption of the all-electric aircraft concept for the aircraft industry provides significant benefits in terms of aircraft weight, fuel consumption, total life cycle costs, maintainability, and aircraft reliability.
Some of the Important Recent Developments Observed in the All-electric Aircraft Market:
Major players such as Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Boeing, and others, including start-ups are increasingly investing in the research & development of all-electric and hybrid aircraft. Currently, the all-electric aircraft market is in the nascent stage, however, with the maturity of the electric propulsion technology by 2030, the market is expected to witness high demand.
Airbus is collaborating with Siemens and Rolls-Royce, who are planning to test and demonstrate the all-electric aircraft which is in the development stage. Airbus is planning to launch the E-Fan X hybrid-electric technology demonstrator which is anticipated to fly in 2020. It is developing a high-efficiency engine, Engine Alliance, which is being manufactured by Rolls-Royce in partnership with General Electric and Pratt & Whitney. It has used lightweight materials and special dampeners to ensure minimum noise levels.
- Over 100 all-electric aircraft projects are under development across the world, and these aircraft are expected to fly commercially by 2030.
- British low-cost carrier, EasyJet, in collaboration with Wright Electric, is building a two-seat all-electric airplane.
- Boeing sponsored US-based Zunum Aero is expected to develop a 12-seat hybrid plane by 2022 with a 700-mile range
In recent times, there has been an increase in demand for air travel across geographies. The rise in air travel has resulted in an increase in aircraft orders and deliveries. With the growing aircraft fleet sizes, there is an increase in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. The adoption of all-electric aircraft is expected to reduce the total carbon footprint and be beneficial for airlines and the environment. Additionally, high operating costs and high fuel consumption associated with conventional aircraft are propelling aircraft manufacturers to focus on the development of all-electric aircraft.
As current technologies reach the peaks of their development cycles, newer technologies are making headways in the aerospace industry. Therefore, the next logical step is to build on and integrate upcoming technologies to develop safe and efficient all-electric aircraft of the future.